June 21, 2016
Reminds me of Pagnol
This movie is set in 1934 with all of China bracing for the Japanese invasion. The big road of the title was one of the military highways that was being built to aid in national defense. The real charm of the movie is in its portrayal of life in China at the time. There was the hard life in the country as the movie opens, then the city life of young Jin and his friends who work in construction in Shanghai. There are the eating houses, the hard work building, the street life and the foreign bosses. He and his friends, the naif, the tough guy, the flirt, the dreamer, the intellectual, could populate a platoon movie which in a way this is.
The movie really gets going when they get fired in town and move out to the country to work on the big road. They have adventures, work like mules, and befriend the two young women who work at the eating house, Lilac and Jasmine. The setting is exotic, and it would be almost as exotic to someone living in China today.
In practice, the film was a piece of propaganda. The director, Sun Yu, was a leftist who retreated with Mao when the Japanese invaded in 1937. He was later denounced by Mao for another of his films. As a movie, The Big Road is a memoir, evoking a particular time and place with a great deal of skill and detail. Pagnol, working around the same time evoked a vanishing part of France. It was hard not to think of his Regain when watching this.
As others have noted, this is a silent musical. There are musical numbers and some sound effects, but the dialog is written in Mandarin. There are English subtitles and subtitled versions available if you dig around and know how to use Handbrake.